PM Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended himself from allegations he was involved in scandals related to the purchase of German submarines and to the telephone company Bezeq, in a meeting with some of his closest supporters in the Likud faction on Thursday afternoon.
Netanyahu told the politicians they should stop being nice while he is under attack and attack back on his behalf.
He also presented a series of arguments to disprove his involvement in the two scandals.
“There is a political campaign of politicians and the press who have come together to topple me and the Likud government,” Netanyahu said. “Behind the mud-slinging there are no facts. The opposite is true.”
Ministers Miri Regev, Tzachi Hanegbi, Ofir Akunis, Yuval Steinitz, Yariv Levin and Ayoub Kara, and MKs Yoav Kisch, David Bitan, Miki Zohar, and Amir Ohana attended the hastily called meeting.
Netanyahu told the politicians that he called the meeting because he was outraged by what he said were false accusations from Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid regarding Israel green-lighting the sale of German submarines to Egypt when the country was controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Participants in the meeting told The Jerusalem Post
that Netanyahu was concerned the bad press he was getting on the submarine and Bezeq stories could cause him significant political harm.
“You cannot be silent when you are under attack,” one of the participants said. “He is innocent, but the press campaign against him could create an impression in the public that he is guilty, which could harm the brand-name ‘Benjamin Netanyahu.’” The prime minister reiterated that he is not a suspect in the submarine affair and that the Justice Ministry ruled he did not make controversial decisions or any decisions which helped Bezeq that could be seen as involving a conflict of interests.
The participants stressed that Netanyahu never mentioned new Labor chairman Avi Gabbay in the meeting and that he did not appear to feel any political pressure from Labor’s rise in polls this week.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, whom Gabbay replaced as Labor leader on Monday, said at a Thursday night political rally hosted by Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz that Netanyahu was not listening to the advice he gave to former prime minister Ehud Olmert when he was under investigation.
“Netanyahu should be a little more modest,” Herzog said. “He said a prime minister under investigation has no ethical right to make decisions. He is now in the same situation and he has no ethical right to make decisions.”
Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon called upon Netanyahu to resign Thursday night, telling Channel 10 that the prime minister would not be able to prove that he was not involved in the submarine scandal.
Zohar said the Likud’s politicians had an obligation to defend Netanyahu from such accusations.
“We are going on the offensive,” he said. “We’re tired of all unforgivable slander aimed at the prime minister. We have clear data that the prime minister has nothing to do with any of the ongoing scandals.
It is time to stop blaming him for everything that goes wrong in the country. The unreasonable position whereby the prime minister is guilty until proven otherwise, must cease.”
The Likud responded to Ya’alon by saying that he lost his credibility when law enforcement authorities leaked that they had deemed his testimony on the submarine scandal as baseless gossip. The party mocked Ya’alon’s suggestion that he left the Likud because of the submarine deal and not because he lost his job as defense minister to Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman.
“He left the party not because of his blabber on the submarine but because the Defense portfolio was Yisrael Beytenu’s condition for widening the coalition,” the Likud said in an official statement. “Ya’alon should go find new ways to cross the electoral threshold, because this way has clearly not proven itself.”